Monday, November 1, 2010

Jeddien's Retirement

When your horse is a wonderful dressage partner, one with whom you have enjoyed years of dressage education, fun, and success, the retirement of that amazing equine can a difficult thing to accept, embrace, and enjoy.

Since the 2009 USDF Regional Championships, Jeddien has not competed.   Training continued, but with Piper coming along well in his training and two youngsters in the pipeline (including Jeddien's daughter!), it has been easier to accept that Jeddien is pushing 20 years old, struggles to maintain her girlish figure, and quite frankly has nothing else to prove in life.

And so, without planning, without any fanfare, Jeddien quietly retired from competition.   She still gets ridden occasionally, but no longer is she asked to try to work towards the next level, Prix Saint Georges.   She continues to go hacking, which she totally loves, and happily lets my dressage students have a feel of the upper level movements.

Surprisingly, and as a magical Swan Song for the old mare, Jeddien was accepted into the "Dressage Today" magazine's video clinic with Axel Steiner, "O" judge.   She is in the November 2010 issue, page 16.   The photo Mr. Steiner and his wife, professional photographer Terri Miller, critique is shown above.   I smile everytime I see it.   Carole MacDonald always seems to capture perfect snapshots!

Jeddien's History

Jeddien (Bustron x Uriant) was born in Holland June 21, 1991 on a small sheep farm.   She and her mother, Enia, were the only horses on the farm.   Interestingly, Jeddien truly hates sheepskin touching her body, squealing and kicking out at it.   I'm sure there's quite a story there....

With the help of Frits Donderwinkel, I imported Jeddien into the UK in March 1994 after viewing two videos of her.   She passed the vet check and I purchased her for a mere 5500 UK pounds, about $8000.   I started her and trained her.   We competed and won together in the UK through Advanced Medium Level.   We qualified for the Regional Championships, both Summer and Winter Seasons, nearly every year and competed at Medium Level Restricted and Medium Elite at the Winter Championships at Solihull.   When my husband and I moved to the USA in 2005, Jeddien came with us, as did Piper Warrior.

In the UK, Jeddien and I trained with Robert Pickles, FBHS.   We attended clinics with Christine Stuckleberger and Jan Nivelle for dressage, a Parelli UK instructor, and Tim Stockdale for showjumping.   Yes!   Showjumping.   In one competition at Merrist Wood College, Jeddien earned a double clear ribbon on her first time out over a colored course!   She loves to jump!

Once Jeddien understood what was expected, she won the majority of the competitions in which she was entered.   She even had her photo in UK's "Horse and Hound" magazine twice!   In her final show at the 2009 USDF Region 8 Championships, she walked away with two 3rd Level Reserve Championship titles!

In 2006, Jeddien gave birth to a stunning little chestnut filly who was sporting four even white socks!   Born with legwraps on!   Bea Yewtee is by the late "Da Vinci", a gorgeous gray FEI stallion who stood at Cornell University in his later years.

It was a year later that Jeddien first competed in the USA, starting at 3rd Level, then 4th, and for one weekend, 1st and 2nd, and only then so I could earn my USDF Bronze Medal.   In 2007, 2008, and 2009, she competed in the USDF Region 8 Championships at 3rd Level Open / Professional, coming 3rd, 7th, and Reserve Champion respectively.

Jeddien was also the very first horse several riders ever rode, including my husband who went on to train at a British Horse Society approved Riding Center in the UK.   Jeddien is thoughtful and careful with all new riders and has been the source of a lot of smiles.   Most recently, she let a first time young rider invent his own game of equestrian soccer where they, together, scored goals with her big Parelli ball.   He thought it was much more fun than doing 20 meter circles at the walk!

The Future

So now, the plan is simple.   We will continue to ensure Jeddien enjoys her life, well into her senior years, on our horse farm in New Hampshire.   She will continue to be pastured in the daytime with her little gang of geldings and stabled indoors in the evenings.   She will, of course, continue to run up vet bills, dental bills, saddle fitting bills, and farrier bills.   It's a good life, an easy life, and one which she enjoys.

Nope, there was no retirement party for Jeddien.   But some fellow competitors have commented to me about her absence from the show ring...   Relief, maybe?   I like to think so.   :-)

Jeddien is a wonderful unique character, a true chestnut mare, a real star and prima donna dressage queen, and my Horse of a Lifetime!   As Axel Steiner put it, I have been blessed to have such a willing and generous equine partner!   She is also a beloved member of our family, now and always.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Riding in the Championships

At the 2010 Regional 8 Championships, Piper and I contested 2 classes per day over 4 days.   While a little bit of a gamble, in the end, this worked out really well.   It meant that prior to the Training Level Championship class on Thursday and the First Level Championship class on Friday, we rode a warmup test.   And the night before the Freestyle Championship, we were able to ride our Kur in an open class in the same ring as the Championship.

Two years ago, in September 2008, we took Piper along to Saugerties when Jeddien had qualified for the Third Level Open Regional Championships.   This was the same year that Piper started to compete in the USA and was dealing with wicked phobias of judges stands, tents, booths, and whatever else was used to house judges.   And with golf carts, show jumping, banners, flowers, dogs, cyclists, lots of horses, stabling away from home, and everything else that keeps the Saugerties show atmosphere buzzing, Piper was overwhelmed to the point of submission.   He found SAFETY in the quiet calm of the dressage arena, and was actually a good boy, although a bit shy and withdrawn at times.

Last year, injury sidelined Piper in the summer.   This year, he came into his own and became a little competition star.   And at Saugerties, this became even more apparent.   From arrival to departure, he was braver than he'd ever been, taking everything in stride.   The few little moments he did have would have been expected from most horses.   Especially competing in the impressive Ring One for the first time.

Day One - Training Level Championships

With a fabulous first ride time of 9:12 am, Piper went into Ring 3 and pulled off a very nice, calm Training Level Test 1 test.   The super score of 69.565% was enough to earn him 2nd Place in a class where the scores ranged from 70.87% to 46.957%.

An hour later, we were in the same ring again for the Training Level Championships, Open Division.   As expected, the class included several well known professional riders on really nice horses.   Knowing this, I was hoping we would finish in the top half of the large class of 24 combinations.   Earning an okay 65.4%, we finished 11th out of the 22 who started.   (There were 2 scratches.)   Scores ranged from 71.6% to 53.8%.

Day Two - First Level Championships

Our warmup class on Friday was Training Level Test 2.   Another good sized class with 18 starting.   Making it more interesting, the class was watched by about 20 judges attending a judges' forum.

I like Training Level Test 2 because it has two full trot diagonals in it.   With Piper and his very steady trot tempo, these movements offer a great opportunity to earn easy 7's and 8's.   However, to earn those, the rider has to remember to perform them!   And sure enough, I did not remember one of them, thus earning a deduction of 2 points for going off course.   However, a quick wave to acknowledge the judge's bell, and we went around again and did a nice diagonal.

In what should have otherwise been a quiet and easy test, Piper decided to start tossing his head and going well above the bit.   This was a new behavior for him, and not welcomed at all at this point in the game.   Of course, the judge saw it too.   In the end, we earned 66.071% in a class ranging from 70.714% to 55%.   6th Place.

The First Level Regional Champion, Open Division followed later that morning.   And by then, Piper had decided he really liked this new game of head tossing, pulling against the bit, and ignoring the rider.   It was not a fun ride at all!   And when the score of 56.184% was posted, I was not surprised.   We came Dead Last in the class of 23 combinations, a class which won with a very respectable 69.605% score.   I can't remember the last time I came last....   Talk about a bump in the road.   I was not a happy camper after that test!

Day 3 - Open Classes Only

Saturday morning, bright and early, Piper and I rode in the Training Level Test 1 class of 13.   Scores ranged from 69.565% to 55.652%.   Our score of 66.087% put us in 4th Place.   While this is an easy test for Piper, he was still playing up.   And now I was really starting to wonder why... and had a sneaking hunch it was to do with the bit.

A week before Saugerties, I switched Piper's thinner KK ultra bit for a thicker one.   The thinner one was what we had spent the whole season competing in.   At home in the runup to this show, he was really great in the thicker bit.   Responsive, light, happy.   But we had not tried it in competition.   And this was, in retrospect, not the competition at which to be testing new tack!

Riding in Ring One

That evening, we were given a scratched slot in the USEF / FEI Freestyle Level of Choice test.   Since it was in Ring One, where the Freestyle Championships were scheduled to be run on Sunday, and was being held during cocktail hour in front of the grandstands and VIP tents, it was a perfect opportunity to press all the buttons of both horse and rider and see how well we were BOTH going to cope.

Ring One can be intimidating.   Even the super brave lionness of a horse, Jeddien, thought twice when entering Ring One in her 3rd Level Freestyle Championships in 2009.   Entering under the pedestrian bridge into the sunken fishbowl arena is awesome and can really get the blood pumping.   For Piper, it was a true test of his new found bravery.   But with a little encouragement and help from the NEDA volunteers, he squirted into the arena and we made our way around past each of the 5 judges booths.   I introduced myself and Piper to each of the 2 presiding judges and took a deep breath.   "This is a practice run", I told myself.   "Ride it and have fun."

Then, the bell.   Positioning ourselves outside of the arena near K, I signaled the announcer and within a few seconds, our "Tic toc tic toc" music intro began.   I made a supreme effort to find Piper's trot and adjust it to get into sync with the music, pulled off our halt at X, then headed directly on the diagonal to M, as planned in my choreography, thus avoiding having to head directly towards the judge.

The rest of the test is mostly a blur...   as they sometimes are for me...   with exception to Piper pulling against the bridle in the canter, but only to the left, and the final centerline where Piper suddenly took great exception to the view of C several meters ahead.   With our final line from A to C being a zigzag legyield movement, it was just impossible to keep Piper trotting, flowing sideways, and going forward.   He walked the final legyield into our halt at G.   None-the-less, I saluted and smiled, happy just to be there, happy to have ridden our freestyle, happy to be done.

Suddenly the audience reappeared out of nowhere, bursting my private little bubble in which I tend to ride my dressage tests.   People were applauding on three sides of the fishbowl.   A moment of mushiness swept over me as my eyes welled up and my heart filled with immense pride for my horse.   It was good.

When our winning score of 65.833% was posted, I was thrilled to see that not only had we won the class and a nice $50 gift certificate donated by NEDA's own Beth Jenkins & Paddock Saddlery, we had earned our first qualifying score towards the 2011 Regional Championships.   An excellent result!

Day 4 - Freestyle Championships

Bright and early on Sunday morning, we entered Ring One for the second time.   After the night before, I was confident we could pull off a bit more accuracy on our choreography, now knowing that Piper might back off a little in this ring.   I could adjust for this.   I also felt confident that I could get him to trot the full final zigzag movement.

As the test progressed, I was pleased to see my confidence in Piper's confidence was well placed.   And while he was able to finish the zigzag, his head tossing was no better than before.   And with the same judges viewing the same freestyle in a space of 16 hours, they were a little less tolerant of Piper's lack of submission.   Our score dropped nearly 1.5% to 64.375%, putting us in 4th Place in the Regional Championships for First Level Freestyles.   The final scores for the class ranged from 68.333% to 59.167%.

Considering it was Piper's first complete year of serious competition, 4th was still a good result.

Day 4 Continues - Tack Change

The weekend was nearly over.   And with it, we had one ride left to go.   Another run at First Level Test 4, the test in which we earned a disappointing 56% two days earlier.   Even though we had just started competing at First Level recently, this score was not acceptable to me.

Before tacking up, I put Piper's old bit back on the bridle.   In the warmup, he was FABULOUS.   I had my 2010 season partner back under me again.   But, enjoying the warmup so much, I probably left my competition test in the warmup area.   Piper was running low on fuel.

The last test of the show was polite and Piper behaved.   I left the arena beaming like someone who fully believed they had just won the class with an unprecedented winning score.   Yes, I was very pleased with the boy.

We finished in 6th Place with a 61.842% in a class of 15 where the scores ranged from 72.368% to 55.263%.   We had improved our earlier L1T4 score by over 5%.   However, more importantly, I remembered the advice I always give others....   Never change your tack right before a big show!   A mistake I will not make again....

The Awards Ceremony

The last thing we had to do before packing up the trailer to go home was ride in a Mounted Awards Ceremony in Ring One during the lunchtime break.

Leading up to the Championships, I was able to worry myself to sleep at night, thinking what might happen during the Awards Ceremonies, which in my dreamworld we would of course be attending!   But when it actually came to pass, Piper acted as if he had been doing Mounted Awards Ceremonies all of his life.

He stood.   He waited.   He got bored.   He tried to eat the long white ribbon hanging from his bridle.   And he happily did a circuit of Ring One with the other competitors from the First Level Freestyle Championship class.   No problem.   He was a super star!

Good-Bye, Piper the Wuss

Looking back at this competition year, it's really amazing to see how much Piper Warrior has matured.   Piper the Wuss is finally growing into his real name.   While not quite a Warrior yet, he has certainly come a long way towards being a braver, more confident competition horse.   And that, in turn, makes him all the more fun to ride and partner in competition.

It'll be interesting to see what next year brings....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arriving at the Championships

The 2010 USDF Region 8 Championships are now history.   The final weeks and days leading up to this huge event is all a bit of a blur now.   Suffice to say, training continued and several practice runs of the tests and our kur took place.   And a small tack change was made...   which I will get back to later.

After a four and half hour long drive, arriving at the HITS showgrounds in Saugerties New York is always a relief.   Piper traveled very well, arriving in excellent condition.   During the trip he munched on some of the wet hay provided in his haynet and he enjoyed apples at our two fuel and rest stops.   As always, the first priority was to get Piper out of the trailer, and this was done within a few minutes, as soon as we got the first bag of shavings into his stall and a water bucket in place.   The next hour involved unloading everything and carefully arranging the tack stall out of which we would "live" for the next four days.

While some training & boarding farms decorate their show barn areas with very handsome custom embroidered curtains, chairs, and wall hangings, with farm names and logos proudly displayed, we are still doing things on the Home Depot scale.   A 12 x 12 foot plastic blue tarp works well as our floor rug and allows us to keep our hay off the dirt floor of the barn aisle.   Two $6 shower curtains hung on the inside of the tack stall offer some privacy.   We also string a heavy rope diagonally across the tack stall, providing a place to hang clothes, blankets, gloves, coats and more.   Full length folding lawn chairs and pillows, positioned towards the back of the tack stall, provide comfortable places to rest, read, and nap.   A cooler of drinks and snacks between chairs acts as a coffee table.   It's certainly not luxury living, but it works for us.

By the time we has settled in, moved the trailer to the trailer parking lot, and fed Piper dinner, it was dark.   The trip to our hotel, one at which we had stayed two years prior, was short and easy.   Settling in there was simply a matter of signing in and dumping off our suitcases.   Then, we were off to the nearby Mexican Restaurant for dinner, back to the barn for night checks, and finally back to the hotel for the night.

The next day, Piper was going to be competing in his first ever USDF Region 8 Championship class.   It was a long journey that was about to reach the final milestones.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Forget the Milk! How About "Got Registrations!?!?"

This week, I checked out the USDF current standings for 2010 season awards and was delighted to see Piper Warrior and I ranking fairly well for our first real full year of competition together.

For USDF Horse of the Year (HOTY) awards at Training Level, we are ranked 166 in the USA.   The HOTY list bottoms out at median scores of 60%.   So far, 385 horse / rider combinations across the country have earned a spot on the list.   Our median score is 66.2%.

At First Level, we are ranked 161 out of 333 with a median score of 64.737.   I hope to see that jump up a little at the next competition.

For Musical Freestyles at First Level, we are currently standing at 13th with a score of 68.958%.

AND, as an older rider, I am now registered with USDF as being "Vintage".   And accordingly, we are now also listed in the "Vintage Cup" award standings.   At Training Level and First Level respectively, we are currently ranked 18th and 14th in the USA.   Very cool indeed!

The USDF also offers "All Breeds Awards" sponsored by different breed associations.   As a registered KWPN Dutch Warmblood, Piper is also eligible for USDF All Breeds KWPN/NA awards.   However, in order to earn the awards, all of the proper registration information must be completed and filed with the KWPN/NA.   And sure enough, for Piper, it is NOT.   Whoops!

And so the mad dash to get this completed has begun.....   Have you got your registrations in?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Qualified X 3 !!!

Just before the 2010 competition season came to a close, Piper and I competed at the two back-to-back Vermont Dressage Days competitions in Burlington VT.   There, we rode in three classes per show:   Training Level Test 4, First Level Test 4, and USDF Freestyle.

The journey up to Burlington is not excessively long at 2 and a half hours, nor very challenging with most of the drive being on one highway.   However, talk about hilly!   At times, my truck labored up the Green Mountains at just under 50 miles per hour.   But, the truck soldiered on and we got there and back home perfectly well.

The Vermont Dressage Days competition is held at the Champlain Valley Exposition Center in Essex Junction.   The dressage arenas, warmup areas, and stables are all towards the back of the large site, on level ground.   Being close to the impressive Lake Champlain, the showgrounds enjoyed strong breezes, keeping the potential summer heat at bay.   The nights were pleasantly cool and Piper seemed comfortable in his temporary accommodations.

Qualifications Complete

One the first day of showing, Piper put in a good effort.   Enough to complete qualifications for First Level and First Level Freestyles.   That allowed day two to be free of any pressures and goals.   We were now fully qualified for the USDF Regional Championships in three categories!

The second day, however, turned out to be challenging in new ways.   The winds were quite strong.   Piper was on his toes while also being a bit tired.   An interesting combination.   He needed some reminding to pay attention and stay focused on the job, but also confidence to keep things together.   However, overall, he was more confident than I'd ever seen him.   Spook-free.   Braver.   More trusting.   It was pleasing progress for the naturally timid boy.

As for our freestyle, in the end, the music was not radically changed leading up to this competition.   A couple of little blips in the mixing were smoothed out, but that's all.   Instead of editing the music, I adjusted the choreography to match the phrasing.   Overall, the judges enjoyed the music, as did the audience.   And scores close to the 70% mark were earned, earning blue ribbons in both classes.

What's Next ?

The season's goal was to get to the USDF Regional Championships.   We have qualified, but we are not there yet.   And with horses (and life in general) you just never know what will be thrown your way.   However, the intentions are clear.   We are now entered in the 2010 Championships.

Until then, we will continue training, with focus on strengthening and balance with an eye towards improving our lengthenings.   While our lengthening scores have improved from 5 to 7 in the past couple months, there is always room for improvement.   And the work needs to progress from mere lengthenings to true medium paces.   And then eventually extended paces.

We will also continue to work on the contact, seeking a quieter more subtle yet more effective communication between horse and rider.   And from that, the ability to finetune the movements within the tests.

Dressage is a long journey.   First Level is not our final destination, but an enjoyable stop along the way.

Who's Next ?

Meanwhile, one of our 4 year old horses is now being prepared for his very first competition in October.   And THAT actually feels more exciting than anything else right now.   Competing at USDF Intro Level A & B, aka "the walk-trot tests", Big Ben and I will be taking those huge first steps together.

Very exciting indeed.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

July Shows & Qualifications

The past couple weeks have been focused on competing.  Training, traveling, and riding.

After the GMHA June show, Piper stayed at the facilities for a week, enjoying a 4-H Camp week with his junior rider.  They participated in all sorts of activities from flat work to eventing, showing to trail riding, and hanging out.  Upon Piper's return home, we got hit with the heatwave to end all heatwaves.  When it came time to get back to dressage, Piper was heavy in the hand and not as light on his feet as one might like.

GMHA July Dressage Days

And so, the GMHA July show was much harder work than the June show.  We did not sweep, but we still put in a good showing.  Piper was Reserve Champion High Point of the Day at Training Level Open for one day and earned a few nice ribbons.

And, we completed our Qualification for the USDF Regionals at Training Level Open.  A mean feat, that, as open riders have to earn 68% in order to qualify.   68% scores do not come easily at any level.

But the big event for GMHA July was Piper's freestyle debut.  The music was not perfect.  The choreography wanted a bit more fiddling.  But we froze both, committed to practicing with what we had, and showed it on Saturday to a small but appreciative audience of about 40 or 50 people.

Nerves.  Riders can suffer from them.  So can horses.  And that's okay as long as the horse and rider take turns being nervous, with the calmer one providing support.  If both are worried at the same time, effective riding goes out the side door.

As our music started and we headed into the arena, I could feel we were not in sync with our trot music which has a very strong "clip clop clip clop" beat.   Instead of half halting and getting Piper's footfalls to match the beat, I just sat there in passenger mode.  Piper, meanwhile, was having serious second thoughts about approaching the judge at "C" at all.

And so the 4:45 minute ride progressed.  Piper continued to avoid "C", each time cutting a couple seconds off the ride and putting us ahead of the music.  Fortunately, his lack of impulsion (not a good thing, by the way) prevented us from getting too far ahead.  And the rider, overheating in a jacket which was not required in the humid 90 degree heat but was highly recommended, just hung in there, knowing it was not going to plan but not doing much about it.

We survived.  And that's about it.  We earned 62.5% from one judge and 65.625% from the other.  Final score:  64.063%.  Not horrible, but certainly not what we are capable of when the horse is not spooking and the woman in the saddle is actively in charge.

I vowed to actually RIDE my next freestyle the following week.  And did.

UNH Dressage on the Seacoast

At the UNH (University of New Hampshire) show, as soon as the music started, I helped Piper latch onto the beat.   Then, throughout the test, I rode the movements as best as possible technically, while listening for the music cues and making adjustments as necessary.   The final centerline, with zig-zag leg yields, went fairly well, and I beamed with satisfaction in my final halt.   The ride felt pretty good.

Both judges rewarded us with just over 69% and we won the freestyle class with a qualifying score of 69.271%.  We used the same music CD.  And the same floor pattern.  But this time, the rider RODE every step of the test as well as every phrase of the music.   And that makes a difference.


So, at this stage, Piper is qualified for Training Level Open and half qualified for First Level Freestyle and First Level Open.  We have two opportunities left to chase those qualifying scores.  Until then, we've got a bit of time to train, tweak the music, and work on our technical execution of the the choreography.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Final Music - Rev 1

Designing a kur, one eventually reaches a point where you have to say, "Burn the CD!"  No more editing.  No more tweaking.  No more builds of new audio files.  That time has come.  Now we just make the CD, and a backup copy, test them both, and put them in the horseshow briefcase for safe keeping.

From now until 2:45 Saturday afternoon, I will listen Piper's freestyle music over and over, becoming intimately familar and utterly comfortable with it and its odd little modifications.   For the moment, I will even embrace the little musical messes I desparately want to try tidying up.   I will also study today's final videotaped practice run, a test which even my perfectionist husband thinks was pretty good.  I will absorb how the test flows with the music and fully accept where the choreography does not quite fit.

From now until around 2:45, nothing changes.  However, after 3:02, once my ride is done and dusty, scrutiny of the music and the choreography can start all over again, in preparation for the next show....

...Or maybe not.  If the feedback from the two judges is favorable, the Kur may last the rest of the season as is.  And wouldn't THAT be wonderful?  I could shift my focus to weeding my overgrown vegetable garden!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


After several hours playing with music, editing, riding, videotaping, viewing, reviewing, and more editing.... technology decided to throw in several curve balls.

First, my red Acer Ferrari laptop, a computer I have enjoyed for several years, keeled over.  Deader than a doornail.  And sure enough, it was the system I was using for iTunes and Audacity.

Then, Audacity had the audacity to erase a huge strip of music across 4 tunes.  Ugh.  However, since I had been keeping records of the work I was doing, I was able to recut the music.... Or so I thought.

Test riding it, I discovered, much to my husband's amusement while he videotaped, that I can cut out TOO MUCH of the music, about 20 seconds worth.  A video of this can be seen here on YouTube.

So, not to be deterred, I went back to the drawing board and made more edits....
  Only to have a good cut of music get wiped out when the system I am now using CRASHED.   Ah....   Windows.   And try as it did to restore the work in progress, Audacity was unable.

And so now, a fierce thunderstorm is spiking our power like crazy and I have about 3 days of work to do on my kur....   And only 1 day in which to do it.

Panic or Don't Panic!?   Believe me, I am panicking....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Timing Is Everything

And of course, according the the USDF rules, my freestyle test can not exceed 5 minutes.

Sure enough, after riding mine and taping it in the blazing heat late this morning, I discovered that my current favorite pattern runs 5 minutes, 20 seconds.   Ugh.   Fortunately, by removing a stretchy circle, and tightening two half figure eights, I can get back under 5 minutes.... just.   Phew!

Meanwhile, the music still plays in my head, morning, noon, and night.   I fall asleep with it in my head.   I wake and it's still playing.   Today, while standing in line at a local community Fish Fry dinner, an elderly gentleman standing next to me commented on the extra treat of dinner with music.   Sure enough, I was humming my kur elevator music without knowing it.   Fortunately, he liked it.     :-)

Later this evening, with a spreadsheet handy, I played back the video of our practice run, timing each movement and counting the exact number of steps & strides used.   For the first trot sequence, we take 283 steps in 2 minutes, 1 second.   That works out to 140 beats per minute, confirming what I already established earlier.   But more importantly, and maybe of use later on, I now know how many steps it takes for Piper to perform a 10 meter trot circle, a leg yield from D to E, and so on.   And these steps translate to BEATS in the music.   So if I do find myself needing to adjust the choreography and music a bit, I'm now armed with useful data that I can apply and test via software....

....Anything to avoid having to drill in this excessive heat!   Bring on winter!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Final Song Choices

10 days to go and tonight, I made the final choices on which tunes will be used for Piper's first freestyle.

The semi-finalists included three Abba songs, four jazz tunes, and three Spanish guitar songs.   The Spanish tunes did not meld together well and were the first to drop off the list.   The rest, the finalists, were loaded onto my Shuffle.   Watching a videotaped training session of me riding Piper, I listened to the music and looked to see which suited Piper's movement.   While they all matched the BPM of his gaits exactly or close enough to match with a bit of help from the Audacity software package, I was looking to see which matched his lightness and his ring persona.

Jeddien, who is a chunky ground stomping KWPN Dutch Warmblood mare, worked aesthetically to good strong German folk music, music which one might hear at an Octoberfest celebration.   Piper, however, is a much lighter type KWPN who benefits from light "fluffy" music.

The Spanish tunes are wonderful, but I failed to find a matching set that share enough of a common feel to work well together for one freestyle.

The Abba music was suitable for Piper, however, no matter how I tried to think of the music, I could hear lyrics in my head.   And that's not a good thing!   I don't want the audience and judges to be mentally singing along when I suddenly cut to another song.

In the end, I went with two jazzy tunes, both of which are recognizable (and therefore predictable for the audience), but if the songs have lyrics, I doubt anyone knows them.   Both songs, while having very strong beats, manage to still be very light and fluffy.   Perfect for Piper.   And, best of all, both songs make me smile.   This is really important as I'll have both songs stuck in my head for the next few months.

Two songs?   Yup.   Unlike Jeddien's kur which used three songs, one per gait, the music I have chosen for Piper has one song for the trot and another for both the walk and the canter.   Since the BPM for Piper's walk and canter differ by a small amount, a little tweaking will be needed, but not much.

Editing with Audacity is now underway.   The computer may be hooked up to the outdoor arena speakers and to allow for editing on the fly.   Alternatively, new MPEG-4 files can be created and loaded onto the Shuffle, then ridden to.   The iterations will continue for the next several days, with a goal of having Piper's debut Freestyle CD ready a few days before competition.

So, progress continues....   It feels great!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Kur Design : A Chicken and Egg Puzzle

Designing a kur reminds me of the chicken and egg puzzle I often tried to unravel as a kid.   In this case, it's a question of which comes first, the music or the choreography.

For Piper's debut First Level kur, I have had a floorplan in mind for quite some time.   It includes interesting center line sequences at the beginning and the end of the test, has counter canter movements that aren't used in any USDF 2007 tests, is symmetric and pleasing to watch / judge, includes all of the required movements for a USDF First Level Freestyle, and does not include any movements from higher levels.

However, as I get closer to making the final selections on Piper's music, I can see that the choreography will need modification.   This, by the way, is not a surprise.

While I could simply ride the trot movements to Piper's trot music, the canter movements to his canter music, and the walk movements to the walk music, designing choreography that works well with the musical phrasing has the potential to vastly improve the overall entertainment value of the freestyle, and hopefully the scores earned as well.

For example, when the trot music builds to its strongest point, so should the trot.   Doing a lengthening or medium trot during a quiet phrase in the music is something I want to avoid.   The same holds true for the walk and canter.   And I will be aiming to avoid what I call "chippy choppy" music; music that starts and ends abruptly and includes musical transitions that make the listeners say, "Ouch!".

The challenge of designing a good kur is just that, a challenge.   But then, so is solving the chicken and egg puzzle....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fighting Horse Flies

One of the problems with training outdoors in the summer, at least in this part of the country, is having to deal with horse flies and deer flies.   Both are nasty persistent bugs who can cause at the very least, distraction during training sessions, and at the worst, pain and suffering to both horse and rider.

Using bug spray, ear nets, and a horsehair riding crop can help.   However, eliminating the pests so they can't pester the horse in the first place would be even better.

After doing some light internet based research about horse flies, their life cycle, and pest control, I learned quite a bit about them.   And understanding that they are attracted to high contrast color, I suddenly appreciated why my black horse was getting attacked more viciously than my solid chestnuts, and why my flashy chestnut with four white socks seems to be preferred by the horse flies when standing next to her buckskin boyfriend.

I also learned that whenever the fly attacks the underside of a target, if the target turns out to not be food, the insect flies vertically instead of horizontally to continue the search for something edible.   It is this behavior which led scientists at the University of Manitoba and Rutgers University to design their successful traps.

And, of most interest, I learned that only females bite.   They need to feed on blood before they lay their eggs.

With a goal of breaking the female horse flies' cycle of feeding on my horses and then laying eggs so next year's offspring can feed on my horses, I decided to try a horse fly trap.   After considering the traps available for purchase on the web, I decided to build my own.

My trap is very heavy, suitable for use on our windy mountain.   The design is a mix between the Rutgers and the Manitoba fly traps, both of which capture flies without the use of chemicals or foods.

The first trap, a big black beauty of a thing if I may so myself, was so successful in capturing horse flies that I built a second trap this weekend.   With high contrast being the priority, I had a bit more fun with the paint job.   A retired horse ball toy, painted high gloss black, hangs "loose" from the center of the top panel where the actual containment traps sit.   In the wind, the ball provides a bit of motion, helping to make the trap look more alive.   The containment traps are Farnam's "Toss N Trap" fly traps, without the chemicals.   They are perfectly designed for use on a Manitoba horse fly trap and, held on with bungy cords, are very easy to replace when the contents of the traps get grungy.

So, now we have a handsome Holstein in one of our pastures.   Hopefully the horse flies will absolutely love it!   Dinner is ready!   Come and get it!     :-)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Creating Piper's First Kur

In two and half weeks, Piper and I will be doing our first musical freestyle / kur together in competition.   And at this time, I still don't know what music we will be riding to, nor what pattern we will be using.   But, we have 2 weeks to get this sorted.

The design of the kur Jeddien and I did last year, the kur which earned USDF Region 8 Reserve Champion at 3rd Level Freestyle only took a few years to put together.   Yes, years.   But that's due to the fact that I was hoping to debut at freestyle riding in the UK.   I knew which music I was going to use and had cut my first CD for practicing with, but the floor plan and choreography was still very rough.

Then we moved to the USA, and Jeddien had a foal, and well, time kept slipping by.   In 2009, concentrated design work was picked up again in time to do 3 competitions, qualify, and get to the Championships.

So, with prior experience of designing ONE KUR, I am aiming to get the second one done in less than 2 weeks time.   A wee bit ambitious?   You bet!   Nothing like a little pressure.   :-)

Once again, having good tools helps.   This includes my collection of Isabell Werth CDs, iTunes for ripping the CDs, my Shuffle for riding with music in my ears, a metronome, Dressage Divas software to play with the floorplan and timings, and Audacity software to edit the music and create a high quality CD.

Today, with a major heatwave underway, I spent the day indoors with a box fan to one side and laptop in front of me.   With a wide selection of music and a good example video of Piper doing First Level Test 4, the keystep is now done.   I now know the Beats Per Minute (BPM) of Piper's walk, trot, and canter.   And sure enough, they are different from Jeddien's!

I have a floorplan in mind, but now that I've narrowed down the music choices to two sets of walk, trot, and canter tunes, I know the choreography is going to have to be changed.   But first, I want to decide on the music.   And for that, I really want to get on Piper....

.... only after the heatwave breaks.   Saturday, I hope....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aiming for a Better First Level Counter Canter

At this stage of the game, I feel confident Piper and I have Training Level down pretty well.  But with only one competition at First Level under our belts, I know there's a lot of work yet to be done to earn consistently decent scores at that level.
The biggest challenge for Piper is counter canter.  It's still a new movement for him and he still needs to "chill out" when doing it.  Cantering from the long side to X and then counter cantering back to the same long side (the loop in First Level Test 4) still tends to get him a bit excited.  And, in Piper terms, that means his head comes up, his back goes hollow, and he debates whether to offer me a flying change.
It wasn't until I sat back and gave it some thought that I realised I'd skipped some important counter canter training movements in Piper's preparation for First Level Test 4. My favorite of these is the Teardrop.
The Teardrop is a simple movement that involves cantering down the long side, then turning down the center line, or second quarterline, returning back to the same long side in counter canter at B or E, staying in counter canter for a bit, and returning to trot before navigating the corner.  This is a nice way to get the counter canter mindset working in the horse before going for something extreme like Second Level's 20 meter circles in counter canter!
Another counter canter exercise I found useful in the past, is simply counter cantering on the long side, starting on a quarterline, parallel to R and then towards to P (or S to V), and returning to trot well before the corner.   (Few things are worse than sending a horse into a turn without being in balance.)   Initially keeping a gap between the horse and the long side seems to help make counter canter easier.   Think room to breathe, room to escape.   Horses want both.   The gap can start at 5 metres (which means riding on the quarterline) and eventually reduce down to zero when counter countering on the long side is safe and easy.
Our next competition is only a few weeks away!  Until then, we're going to work on our Teardrops and Counter Canter Quarterlines.   And if Piper is anything like Jeddien was at this stage in her training, after each balanced counter canter, he will offer an even BETTER working canter with more expression, elevation, and balance.   Well, that's the plan anyway     :-)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Helmets & Results Updates

No Brain, No Pain

I mentioned before that during the 2nd day of the GMHA 3 day dressage show, my brain was baking inside my very nice helmet.   It was not until someone said I looked unwell that I realized how much I was overheating.   It was not a good thing.

After a bit of debate with myself, I decided I really wanted to ride in a lightweight schooling helmet.   Something with vents.   Something that looked like a normal black velvet covered approved helmet.   But did they exist yet?   A trip to the local tack store was now a necessity.

Sure enough, I found the perfect helmet, with a perfect fit.   Lightweight, vented, fully approved meeting safety standards, and from a few feet away, it looked like my show helmet.   More importantly, it felt wonderful, even in the heat of the 3rd day of the show.

Helmets have come a long way since the thin hunt caps I grew up with.   Today, you can better protect your skull, get a bit of air conditioning, and still look smart.   And that's a good thing.

Runner Up is Good, Too

GMHA has posted the final results of the 3 day show.   And come to find out, in the end, Piper was 3rd highest First Level Open horse of the show, not Reserve Champion.   Still, a fabulous result at his 1st Level DEBUT!

Sometimes final results are not the same as on the day.   I've seen this before.   Little things can happen which make a difference.....   Type-os when putting scores into a computer, coefficients not considered when adding scores manually, errors not substracted, sorting errors, and even difficulties reading the scribes writing!   And sometimes, just reading a list can go wrong.   All sorts of little glitches are possible.   It happens.

Whatever the source, the competitor's job is to take it in stride and be thankful for the hard work of those who put on the shows.   I've run dressage shows before.   Personally, I'd rather compete!   :-)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Awesome Success at GMHA June!

I just returned from GMHA's June three day USDF dressage show in South Woodstock, Vermont.   As usual, the show was extremely well run and the weather was hot & sultry.

Day One - One Qualifying Score

Contesting qualifier classes only, Piper was entered into Training Level Test 4 and was making his First Level debut with Test 4.   Our first ride was the First Level test.   At home, we've run through the test a few times, with varying success.   Piper has not yet experienced "the light bulb moment" when it comes to lengthening the stride at trot.   Instead of slowing the tempo and lengthening the stride with more air time, he can still get a bit rushed.   But it is getting better slowly.

And canter lengthenings we only started training recently.   He does lengthen, but the challenge is in getting him back to the working canter!   And of course, the counter canter loop to and from X is still a new movement for him, testing his suppleness, balance, and obedience.   Coming straight after the lengthening, he tends to bring too much blood into the counter canter movements.   Sticking a 15 metre circle between the two movements would help recollect him mentally as well as physically.   (Something to remember when I start to design his freestyle!)

So, with First Level Test 4 being our first ride of the show, I rode with as much care as I could muster.   And Piper performed well, and much to my delight, completely spook free!   His debut earned him 65.789% or 250 points.   Fabulous.   And rather overachieving on the 58% target score needed to sign up for our First Level Freestyles.   But maybe best of all was his complete confidence approaching the judges booth!

Riding Training Level Test 4 a couple hours later, the pressure was on to nail a qualifying score of 68%.   But knowing how well he did earlier in the day at the more difficult level, I entered the ring with confidence.   Together, we did a really nicely flowing test and earned 70.8%.   Success and we are half way to the USDF Region 8 Training Level Open Championships!

And, to boot, we earned High Point of the Day at Training Level Open and a gorgeous huge ribbon!

Day 2 - One Point

Piper spent the night in GMHA's newly renovated stables.   Very well rebuilt.   Our rides were later in the day, with Training Level first.   It was hot.   We were both a bit tired.   And my brain was baking in my heavy duty, but safe show helmet.

We earned 68% at Training Level Test 4 and another 65.789% at First Level Test 4.   The first test went well.   However, in the second test, Piper decided to throw in a flying change at X during the counter canter loop!   I brought him back to trot and picked up the correct canter lead again before the next movement....   which was...   what?

Sure enough, I went off course.   Usually, if I go off course, it is after a major disruption to the test.   A big spook, a break in gait, a buck, or some other distraction.   This was no expection.   And so, 2 points were forfeited for going off course.   Ugh.   Again, 250 points earned.   251 points would have pushed us over the 66% qualifier score!   You can't get closer than that!

The Accident - One Second

I really wanted one more shot at trying for the elusive 66% qualifying score at First Level.   While there were no scratches yet for Sunday, I suspected the predicted thunderstorms would cause at least one scratch.   So, I decided to keep Piper at GMHA another night and see what happened.   But first, I wanted to call home and see if that was okay....

GMHA does not receive mobile phone service.   So, I hopped in the truck (sans trailer) and headed to town.   As I approached a narrow bridge on Rt 106, I saw another bigger cargo truck coming from the other direction.   I backed off the accelerator as I approached, as I don't like sharing this bridge.   And thank goodness!

The front right corner of the truck struck the cement bridge wall, HARD, causing the rear of the truck to swing into my lane, right into my path.   Then, the truck fell onto its side and continued sliding towards me!

I slammed on the brakes and started backing up as the truck continued to slide.   The driver of the little car behind me, thankfully not tailgating, saw what was happening, stopped and backed up as well.

When everything came to a stop, the truck driver, bleeding from his forehead, crawled out of his rig.   Other road users soon arrived and went back to the little country store up the road to call 911.   I gave the driver the flannel pillowcase cover off my naptime pillow to hold against his wound.   Ambulance, fire, and police all soon arrived, tending to the driver, inspecting the situation, diverting traffic, and collecting statements.   The incident was very scary and left me thinking how a difference of one second could have spelled disaster for me.

Day 3 - One More Time

Sunday morning, an opening appeared in the First Level Test 4 class.   First on the wait list, I got it.   I rode the test like a woman with a renewed appreciation for life!   264 points, 69.474% and our first qualifier score for First Level.

We rode Training Level Test 4 one more time, just for grins.   We won the class with a high 60's score again.   Day 3's rides earned us the Reserve High Point at Training Level and High Point at First Level, both for the Open Division.

As the show wound down to a close, we learned that we won Reserve Champion for First Level Open for the 3 days.   A massive ribbon!   And Piper was the show's High Score Champion for KWPN Dutch Warmbloods, for which we earned an orange sashed ribbon!

Wrap Up

Piper was really on his best behaviour this weekend!   I was thrilled with the results.   I doubt we'll ever see such a successful show like this one ever again.   It was truly a unique experience!

Monday, June 14, 2010

June & Adjusting the Goals

A lot has happened in the last couple weeks....

Since NEDA Spring, Piper Warrior has continued to improve in both his dressage and his jumping.  At the New Hampshire High School Equestrian Teams State Finals held at the Hopkinton Fairgrounds in May, he and Eliza finished 2nd in the WTC Dressage.  A fabulous NHHSET season debut for both of them!  We're already talking about Piper's possible role on the Kearsarge Regional High School Equestrian Team next season.

With the High School season behind us, focus is back on Piper's USDF dressage calendar and training.  And work is progressing well.  Transitions are good 90% of the time.  Lengthening of strides at both trot and canter are coming along.  Leg yields and shoulder ins are solid.  And his counter canter is fairly well balanced and improving everyday.  Good progress indeed.

Last year, while competing Jeddien at 3rd and 4th levels, I discovered the challenge, fun, hard work, and joy of competing in USDF Musical Freestyle classes.  Now as the USDF Region 8 2010 competition season races to its mid-August close, I'm finding myself really itchy to compete to music with Piper.  But before contesting a USDF freestyle class, the horse must show success at the highest test of the level being entered.  Since USDF Freestyles start at First Level, we can not enter a freestyle until after Piper earns 58% at First Level Test 4.

Sooo, you may have already guessed it....  Yes, the goals are changing!

As entries get sent off to various shows, the classes I'm now entering Piper into are Training Level Test 4 and First Level Test 4, the qualifiers for the two levels.  For the USDF Open Division (professionals), the minimum scores needed to qualify are 68% for Training Level and 66% for First Level.  These are fairly hefty scores, not really easy to earn.  The horse and rider really need to be on their game, earning more 7's than 6's.  To qualify for USDF Freestyle Championships, the score is 65%.  In all cases, two qualifying scores are needed, earned at different shows, and under different judges.

The race to qualify is on !

Meanwhile, the 2011 season, which opens in mid-August 2010, runs through October, takes a winter break, then resumes in March 2011, is already on the radar.  GMHA in Vermont (one of our local USDF shows) is putting on a new show in October which gives everyone a chance to get their qualifications started early!

Meanwhile, Jeddien is enjoying retirement.  Her daughter Bea will be celebrating her 4th birthday later this month.  She's now under saddle.  Big Ben, also 4, is working well under saddle and may go to his first competition in October.

But for now, the focus is on Piper.  The woose.  The family pet.  The show jumper.  The dressage horse.  The warrior.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NEDA Spring

Our first big USDF show of 2010 is now done and dusted.  NEDA Spring is the show at which Piper failed to make it all the way to "X" in his only other visit to the Marshfield Fairgrounds.

Piper warmed up very nicely.   He was truly on form, listening, responding to light seat aids, and just being a super calm customer.

And, having practiced at home with an open horse trailer at "C", I knew the judges stands were not going to be a problem for him.

HOWEVER...   As we approached the judge trailer while circling the arena, Piper spied the parking lot down below and beyond the trailer and stopped in his tracks!   So much to look at!   Tractors, trucks, kids playing.   And Piper once again pulled his "turn tail and run" tactics.

Rescued by an observer, we were led around the arena.   And by the time the judge blew the horn, Piper was almost calm again.

Aside from shying away from "H", the corner with the best view of the sunken parking area, the test went really well.   Rider nerves only kicked in as we approached the movement at which I had an unscheduled dismount at UNH last summer.   But keeping inside bend, looking away from "H", and kicking on through the canter, we both survived the movement and finished the test with style.

Tons of 7's, a few 5's for avoiding "H", and 7667 on the collective marks, and comments of "Tactful riding" and "Talented horse. Seems young. Good luck!"   We finished 5th out of 16, 2nd for Open Division, with a score of 64%.   The scores of the class ranged from 68.8% to 56.8%.

It was supremely satisfying to simply complete a test at NEDA Spring with the timid horse.   Hopefully the rest of the season will be a bit easier.   However, this coming week, he is back to being a showjumper as he contests the New Hampshire High School Equestrian Team state finals.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Counter Canter & Flying Changes

An interesting topic of discussion with dressage trainers can often be kicked off with the question:   Which should schooled on the horse first?   Counter canter or flying changes?

And the answer will often start with, "It depends."   :-)   Yes, there are various training approaches.....

Plan A:   For Piper, his training has generally followed the levels of dressage.   Using the dressage tests as guidelines, a rider can learn a good sound progression of lessons for the dressage horse.   Using that approach, working canter is followed by lengthened strides of canter, then counter canter, then collected and medium canters, and finally flying changes.

Plan B:   Another approach is to start playing with flying changes when the counter canter work begins.   This approach works best when the rider is truly skilled at both movements and can be very clear in differentiating the aids for the horse.

Plan C:   And yet another approach is to take what the horse offers and try to expand on it, educating the horse on the aids whenever he is being generous with the movement.

(No doubt, there are a few more plans available to clever dressage riders.)

With Piper, I have pretty much stuck with Plan A.   And that was my plan, until today.

Piper has started training and competing over jumps with his young hunter/jumper rider, Eliza.   And in working over full courses, he has just started to doing flying changes on his own to help keep himself balanced in the canter as they navigate the course.   Okay.   But today, while Eliza tried some counter canter work, he offered unbalanced changes instead.   Great and whoops!   Offering changes is okay, but we don't want him to get used to making incorrect changes!

Okay, so quick decision time!   Piper and I be contesting First Level Test 4 in four weeks time, a test that asks for two counter canter loops.   Meanwhile, Eliza would really love to get flying changes on demand for her hunter & jumper classes.   So, in her lesson this afternoon, instead of riding the soft loop along the long side holding the canter as it shifts in and out of counter canter, as they reached the quarterline between E and X, Eliza gave Piper the correct aids to do a flying change.   And VOILA! they performed a lovely perfectly correct flying change.

So, we moved from Plan A to Plan C.   Tomorrow, I will ride Piper and get to work on Plan B.   Confused?   Hopefully, Piper won't be.   :-)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Planning Piper's Show Calendar

Thanks to a surprisingly warm March and start to April, early spring flowers are everywhere.   However, typical of New England weather, it is actually snowing right now!   And so, it feels like a perfect day to sit down with the 2010 NEDA Omnibus, plan out the competition calendar, and get those first show entries in!

Piper's 2010 competition season has already started.   But not in dressage.   Instead, he has made his showjumping debut, competing with his young rider Eliza who is a member of the Kearsarge Regional High School Equestrian Team.   KRHS is one of several teams competing in the New Hampshire High School Equestrian Teams show series.

Meanwhile, sitting down with a calendar and the NEDA Omnibus, selection of Piper's USDF dressage competitions starts with a vision of the year's goals.   In other words.....

What do I want to achieve this year?

For Piper, the first goal will be to qualify for the 2010 USDF Region 8 Training Level.   The second goal is to pull off the same feat at First Level.   And, before the "Winter Break" in the 2010 - 2011 season, a debut at Second Level is the final goal.

However, this is Piper we are talking about.   Which REALLY means the goals look like this:
  • Successfully complete each ride which we begin
  • Avoid injuries which cause us to withdraw from any competitions
  • Trot right up to all judge booths, flower boxes, and loose trash bags without worry
:-)   Actually, I believe this will be Piper's best dressage year yet!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Preparing for One's First Dressage Show

Preparing to show in your first dressage competition can be a daunting task without a bit of guidance.   I was lucky in that I received lots of excellent tips and coaching from my dressage trainers over the years.   Trainers who had been there, done it, and got the tee-shirts.   :-)   And thanks to such good preparation, my first dressage show was exciting and fun, as has every one since then!

It's in that same spirit that my farm, Kearsarge Meadows, is offering three Dressage Show Preparation Clinics this Spring, aimed at helping riders who are sitting on the fence considering entering their first dressage competition, those who are really ready to compete but want a chance to do a dry run and ask lots of questions first, and those who simply want to pick up additional tips, tools, and a pre-season critique of their test.

Having been there, done it, and earned tons of ribbons, rosettes, and trophies along the way, I'm looking forward to helping riders prepare to enjoy the dressage show ring with a wonderful understanding of what to expect.   And this will allow them to enter at "A", ride up the centerline, halt, and salute to the judge with confidence and a smile.

Hello, Spring!   Let the shows begin!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Google & Dressage Geometry

If you are reading this, you are most likely sitting a computer.   Which also means you're probably familiar with Google.   Me, I'm a big fan of Google, but most especially, I love their logos.   And today's was no exception.

At first glance, I thought Google's logo showed a dressage arena with diagrams of suppling exercises and pirouette work!   Seriously.   Because this is what I see in my mind's eye when I think of dressage ring work.   Shapes.   Circles.   Serpentines.   Geometry.

Okay, so I don't go riding around my arena thinking in terms of Pi, but I do aim to maintain a fixed radius for my circles and voltes, as well as gradual changes in radius and slope for my spiral in, spiral out work.   And for pirouette work, starting with quarter turns, I like to use squares and rectangles.

Thank you, Google, for your first dressage logo!   I suspect Dressage riders around the world will give it a 10!   :-)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring Vaccinations

Each year, before the Dressage Competition Season swings back into gear, we get all of our horses vaccinated against several equine ailments.

(Photo from TNT Equine showing Dr. Deme Erickson, DMV) giving a shot

Friday, March 5th, Dr. Jen Sula, DMV, from Blackwater Veterinary Services in Salisbury NH will visit.  Working her way down the barn, she will check each horse one by one.   Heart sounds, gut sounds, respiration, eyes, and a visual check of their overall condition.

Next, each will receive vaccinations against:
Fortunately, instead of jabbing each horse 7 times, some of the vaccinations are provided in combo shots.

Finally, blood will be drawn from those who will be out and about competing this year.   It's sent to the University of New Hampshire's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory where they test for Equine Infectious Anemia in what is known as the "Coggin's Test".   Proof of a negative result is required to compete.   A copy of the report is sent in with each show entry.

Some may question the expense of this spring ritual.   However, we have enjoyed an excellent record of horsey health, and therefore, no vet bills for nasty equine illnesses.   We really like Preventative Medicine!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

You Do The Hokey Pokey...

As we return to real dressage training, I have noticed that Piper's transitions when travelling to the left are not nearly as good as those done when tracking right.   And, as is sometimes the case with horses, last year, he was better to the left than to the right.   Don't ask me why these things happen....

So, while the work to the right feels wonderful, the work to the left, especially when considered in comparison, feels down right amateurish, disconnected, and messy.   Trying to steer him into better straightness just results in him becoming very "squirrelly"...   Like trying to ride a weasel.   And trying to use leg and hand to box him into a frame fails miserably, of course.

Before applying the aids, sometimes the rider has to engage the brain.   :-)   So, I did.   After considering the problem I was encountering, I asked myself a simple question:   "What would my trainer recommend?"

So, we returned to lateral work.   Spiralling in and out of circles.   Leg yield, haunches in, shoulder in.   Both directions.   We both needed to get loose, and Piper needed to be really responsive to my aids.   Put your left hind in.   Put your left hind out.   Put your left hind in, and shake it all about.

Yes, we did the Hokey Pokey for a while.   Then, we refined it to shoulder-fore positioning.   This position helps get the inside hind leg under the body, asking it to take more responsibility as we perform transitions.   It helps keep the horse together without force, and odd as may sound, it helps keep him straighter.

(Harry Boldt in Shoulder Fore, from his book "Das Dressur Pferd", sourced from the Artistic Dressage website.)

The result was consistently smoother transitions (and some really super nice ones) from trot to canter and from canter to trot.   Overall, we had better connection, better engagement, better maintenance of the tempo, and better balance.   It felt great!

So, after a couple dozen good transitions, we immediately exited the indoor arena and went trail riding in the snow as the sun slipped down behind the treeline.   Another good training session.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cross-Training For Dressage Horses

Meanwhile, back on the farm....   Yes, winter continues to rage on.   But not only does the USDF Region 8 Dressage Season get back into swing in April....   so does the New Hampshire High School Equestrian Team activity.

This year, assuming all goes well, and with him...   or any horse for that matter...  that is never a given, Piper will be debuting over fences with a young rider on the Kearsarge High School Equestrian Team.

To date, Piper's experience with jumping has been limited to freejumping, something he really seems to enjoy, and popping over a few cavaletti and cross rails.   However, as of today, he has had 5 jumping lessons with his newest jockey.   Today's was the first jumping session that we videotaped.

(Comically, since YouTube's audioswap is not working right now, clever dressage riders may note that the CD from which Piper's 2010 dressage freestyle music will come is playing in the background!)

Work started with what he knew from under saddle work.   We keep the work at trot for the first jump, but allow him to canter after that when the striding is good.   We want him to develop confidence and his own eye.   And so far, he is doing great.   More questions will be asked as we progress.   More importantly, he is having fun!   Just look at those ears and his face!   This is horsey good times!

In a couple of weeks, Piper will be introduced to his first standards and wings which are currently being custom built by "Jumps By Jill" in Raynham Massachusetts.   Until then, more of the same...

...Today jumping. Yesterday, our first fairly good half-passes at trot, followed by a nice trail ride in 8 inch deep snow in the woods. Yes, we are definitely well and truly cross-training!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Diets & Hairdos

We are roughly 90 days from when Region 8 Dressage Competitions start up again.   As winter rages on, that may seem like a long time from now.   However, from a training perspective, that is Very Soon!

Both Jeddien and Piper are now back into dressage work.   For the 19 year old mare, this means DIET TIME and losing some of her heavy winter coat.   Her new hairdo, a "Trace Clip", allows her back to stay nice and warm while the areas that tend to sweat up can easily dry and cool down both during and after working sessions.   Her 5 inch tall mohawk, however, will remain for now.

And with a return to work, the plan is for the rather "large-boned" mare to drop some of her winter weight and get back to a good level of condition!   It will be a while before we are back to cantering a mile just to warm up, but we'll get there before April.